O'Donovan: Find A Job and What You Truly Care About

May 15, 2018

By Dale Goodwin (’86) 

Fr. Leo O’Donovan, S.J., said that while the proliferation of nuclear power is a definite threat to our world today, the growing number of refugees and displaced people in our world is no less of a threat. 

“By the end of 2016, 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide, and that number continues to increase,” he told Gonzaga University students receiving their master’s and doctorate degrees May 12 in Graduate Commencement Ceremonies at the McCarthey Athletic Center. “To imagine this concretely, that is almost precisely the number of the entire population of Great Britain,” he said, alluding to the magnitude of this social justice issue.

Fr. O’Donovan serves as the director of mission for Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. His job is to spread the organization’s message nationally and globally, and assist with this major refugee outreach arm of U.S. Jesuits and their institutional ministries, mobilizing their response to refugee situations in the U.S. and abroad.

President emeritus of Georgetown University, serving as president from 1989 to 2001, Fr. O’Donovan was bestowed Gonzaga’s highest honor, the DeSmet Medal, for his lifelong work serving others. 

He began his commencement address, and immediately got the graduates’ attention, with a local reference. “Everyone here today is confident that you will be Zags who powerfully represent the university – and aluminum Jesus, as well,” alluding to the statue between Welch and DeSmet Halls. “If you don't know where he is, I will be happy to show you after the ceremony,” he joked. “I also want to ask you what in addition to your chosen field you will take time to care for.”

Then he broadened his view. “Today the question of refugees and people on the move is a matter of significant controversy in American society. Imagined threats are often trumpeted far beyond what reliable evidence supports and the riches that migrants bring to our country are all too easily overlooked,” he said. 

Listen to the sentiments of Sen. George Mitchell. “Three of the most valuable and successful business enterprises in the world are Apple, Amazon and Google,” Fr. O’Donovan paraphrased, noting Apple was created by Steve Jobs, whose father was born in Syria, Amazon was created by Jeff Bezos, whose adoptive father was born in Cuba, and the founder of Google was Russian-born Sergei Brynn. 

“Also note that of seven Americans who won Nobel prizes in 2016, six are immigrants, winning in chemistry, physics and economics, “Fr. O’Donovan said. 

He asked graduates to consider a conversion of mind and heart to vis-à-vis migrants that is both religiously and rationally grounded. He said the bishops of the U.S. and Mexico in 2003 offered a still-valuable document titled, “Strangers No Longer; Together on the Journey of Hope.” The bishops called for a conversation that deals with confronting attitudes of cultural superiority, indifference and racism, accepting migrants not as promoting alien terrorists or economic threats but as persons with dignity and rights, revealing the presence of Christ and recognizing migrants as bearers of deep cultural values and rich faith traditions. 

“I suggest to you newly graduated Zags that the cause of strangers, with whom we are united in the human family on the journey of hope, is a cause eminently worth caring for,” Fr. O’Donovan said. “I urge it not so much as an addition to full lives of friends and families, the workplace and civic engagement, but as an intrinsic part of your pledge to the common good of humanity. To a society of inclusion and integration rather than self-interest and division. Of building bridges rather than walls. Of giving rather than taking. And yes, being men and women for others.”